A member of the San Francisco Police Commission, John Hamasaki, resigned on Monday following several failed actions of the commission.
Hamasaki, a criminal defense and civil rights lawyer, has been known as the SFPD’s biggest critic on the commission since being appointed by the San Francisco board of supervisors in 2018. While he rallied against police brutality and noted that police should not be called out for incidents unless absolutely needed following the George Floyd incident, in recent years Hamasaki has had to fend off calls to resign. A tweet about firearms last year had several Supervisors demand his resignation, while actions in the past few months directly contributed to his ultimate resignation decision on Tuesday.
Last month, the SFPD announced that they would be terminating their memorandum of understanding (MOU), the agreement that allows the DA’s office to independently investigate officer-related shootings and other use-of-force incidents that result is death or injury, with the District Attorney. This was followed up quickly by criticisms that the SFPD was only doing that to help influence jurors in a police brutality case. SFPD Chief Bill Scott said in February that “The men and women of this department and the nonbinary members of this department, when they’re telling me that this is a crisis, when they’re telling me that our faith in this system, this investigative process is shaken, I think that should be listened to. I think that is important.”
While commissioners reacted negatively to the quick actions of the SFPD without bringing any of it to the commission’s attention first, Hamasaki proved to be the most vocal on the matter.
“You blindsided us,” stated Commissioner Hamasaki. “You’re again blindsiding us.”
Despite DA Chesa Boudin, City Attorney David Chiu, Mayor London Breed and State Attorney General Rob Bonta all coming together to try and solve the suspended agreement later that month, it did not come quickly enough for Hamasaki. After SFPD Officer Terrence Stangel was found not guilty on Monday in the baton-beating case, the same one that many charged that the jury would be influenced by due to the MOU suspension, Hamasaki resigned.
MOU Decision, inaction of other commissioners “final straw” for Hamasaki
In statements and tweets in the following days, Hamasaki said that the MOU decision and the inaction of other commissioners was the “final straw” that led to his decision to resign.
“When no commissioners were willing to vote to extend the MOU, that was kind of the final straw. Civilian oversight is only as strong as the overseers,”Hamasaki said. “And, to me, that was a moment where we blinked. And it showed that in the hard times, when the city’s oversight is on the line, we weren’t willing to use our power. I would push hard on reform measures, but I didn’t feel supported by other commissioners or city officials. I think it’s trying to push that boulder uphill, and finding yourself alone too many times. I feel good after the work gets done, but getting the work done is just so much work.”
“My term on the police commission is up next month, I will not be renewing. While I believe that we have done some good work, we have failed at changing the culture.”
Guess this makes it official. It truly has been an incredible honor and privilege to serve the people of San Francisco. Thanks to the community that inspired me, fought for reform, and pushed me to do good work. Love y’all. https://t.co/nBtOYbUCcS
— John Hamasaki (@HamasakiLaw) March 9, 2022
While many city officials did not comment on his resignation or simply gave a note of thanks for his service, many in the law enforcement community indicated that he would not be missed.
“He was the one we always felt just didn’t like us at all,” said an anonymous SFPD officer to the Globe on Wednesday. “It might not have been the case, but it always felt he was working against us instead of trying to work with all parties, like he wanted police officers to be found against regardless. That was just the vibe he gave.”
Hamasaki’s vacancy will be the second one to come to the Commission recently, with Police Commission Chairwoman Malia Cohen resigning last month in order to run for State Controller. Mayor Breed is due to nominate a new Commission chairperson soon, with the Board of Supervisors to pick a replacement for Hamasaki in the near future. The MOU renegotiation is expected to conclude in the coming weeks.
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